Many people keep pets for companionship, but did you know there can be health benefits as well? Studies have shown that children who grow up in a house with pets are less likely to suffer from allergies. Spending time with a dog has been shown to be therapeutic for Alzheimer’s patients and it might reduce your risk for depression as well. Another major benefit associated with being a pet parent is that it could reduce your risk for heart disease.
Pets and Heart Health
Within the past ten years or so, a number of research studies have revealed a correlation between being a pet (specifically dog) parent and reduced risk for heart problems. Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston, recently published a scientific statement in which he examined this very correlation. According to Dr. Levine, there are a number of reasons why owning a pet might reduce your risk for heart disease:
- Physical Activity – People who own pets, specifically dogs, are likely to get more physical exercise than non-pet owners are. Being a pet parent means taking the dog for a walk every day and one of the main benefits of increased physical activity is improved heart health. According to a Japanese study, dog owners were 54% more likely to receive the recommended amount of daily exercise than non-dog owners.
- Lower Cholesterol – There is some research data to suggest that owning a pet can moderately reduce your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which impacts your heart health. This research also showed that pet parents who suffered from heart disease were more likely to survive a heart attack than those who did not live with a four-legged companion.
- Stress Reduction – Chronic stress can be very damaging on the body, leading to a number of health problems including raised blood pressure (hypertension) which contributes to heart disease. Multiple studies have shown a link between stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine and plaque buildup in the arteries, a major red flag for heart disease. Owning a pet can reduce your stress levels and playing with a pet can increase your levels of both dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters known for their calming properties.
Most of the studies that have been conducted regarding the health benefits of being a pet parent have been done with dogs. According to a 1995 study, 369 people with cardiovascular disease were studied for one year and those who owned a dog were four times more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not own a dog. Cat companions in the same study did not seem to improve their chances for survival a year later.
While parenting a pet can provide some very real health benefits, of course you should not base your decision to get a furry friend on these alone. Caring for a pet is a big responsibility and you should not do it unless you plan to do it well. When you become a pet parent, you accept responsibility for another life and your pet will depend on you for food, shelter, and care. In exchange for this care, your furry friend offers you companionship, loyalty, affection, and perhaps a few health benefits as well.
Article reviewed by a veterinarian